Ode to the Old Barbers
BY KEVIN COVAL
there were three.
i went to the man in the middle
who knew the least english.
bulbous cheeks like cherry snow
cones. a laurel or hardy mustache.
Chicago had a polish radio station
low in the am, an all-day murmur.
the chatter of a different country
in a neighborhood of new comers
when Ukrainian Village was polish
Black combs bathed in electric blue.
mirrors everywhere, an infinite endless
reflection. grey smocks & grey haired
barbers who brought their lunch to work;
brown bags with pickled beets, cabbage
stuffed with sausage & rice.
the blade, exacto knife precise, over
my ear, clip the lip meticulous, a geometric
concern. sculptors of chin, when i knew
no one else, they took me in. i told them
my bubbe was polish, cześć, we joked
we were cousins, though the mother
country rounded her kin into pogroms.
hands of oak & pipe tobacco, hold
a knife at my throat. the sharp
gallant scent of aftershave. baby
powder on my neck like a kolaczki.
they’d send me back into the world
anew, lines sharper than the viaducts.
feelin like a million bucks for twelve.
i’d tip three, every two weeks
until the sign
& the massage spa neon
BY KEVIN COVAL
squats in a storefront long enough to open a coffee shop/gallery
called Yo Mama’s Cafe. he stretches the sun up in a doorway
on the avenue. the ancients wake & stroll past. he’s shirtless
in karate pants. lumberjack shirt, denim overalls & roller skates.
tremendous locks race down his back. he shaves his head
& wears snow goggles. in the summer he walks to the Arab
store for drum & rolling papers. there’s an espresso constantly
steaming at his elbow. a canary. he carries hardbound books
in a belt strapped to his bicycle. Foucault & Public Enemy. Fear
of a Black Planet un-ejectable from his walkman. he’s always
alone in thunderous headphones & has a hundred girls on his arm.
his bed lays in the middle of a furniture-less future. he stirs a pot
of gumbo beneath the blue line & sells paintings he found in the alley
embellished with crowns. he’s avenue royalty in a gas station onesie
chuck taylors jackson pollacked & laceless. he’s 36 & a visionary.
he’s 49 & a screwball. he’s from the south. he is from the south
side. he’s skateboarding down the ave in adidas joggers & a gas mask
three stripes & apocalypse, going nowhere in particular.
The Oil & Incense Man
BY KEVIN COVAL
you could smell from three blocks away.
forest of sticks lit & burning. a smoke stack
under-arm portable salesman able to skate
if the cops come. rambo ammo holsters
holding sweet roll-on bottles X-ed
across his chest: amber, frankincense & myrrh.
the wise man who woulda brought gifts to baby Jesus
& brings holy odors to Jesus’s mother off 26th St.
feng shui for the hood. kufi-ed & righteously perfumed.
Malcolm’s paperback in one pocket. an accountant’s ledger
in the other. a beautiful light blue button up
beneath a khaki trench coat. slangin scents
so the public stays fresh in all seasons.
permitless & perpetually illegal. ancient
off a red line near you. a mobile economy
out the corner store. pink wands wafting
from a card table, vials splayed in a park
to anoint the neck. a bouquet of jasmine
nag champa knapsack, a moveable feast
of sandalwood. burnt offerings, hustler
of culture, permitless & perpetually illegal.